During the eight combined seasons that Shuler, Manning and Martin started at UT, the Vols compiled a record of 81-17, with two SEC championships and one national title. Tennessee was 54-12 in the SEC, 5-3 in bowl games and finished in the top 12 at the end of seven of those eight years.
In the four seasons since Martin started, the Vols have gone 37-14 with no championships and one top 12 finish. They were 1-3 in bowl games and 23-10 in SEC games. In two of those seasons, UT didn't even finish in the top 25 and in another it failed to finish in the top 20.
Obviously, the quarterback alone isn't responsible for that difference, just as it's clear the Vols had more overall talent during that eight-year run than they've had since. But there might very well be a correlation between quarterback talent and surrounding talent. In truth, having a quarterback that is recognized as one of the nation's best makes it easier to attract receivers and running backs that fit that same description. Those are two areas that have been suspect in the last four years at UT.
Remember how the lack of deep threats at wide receiver for the Vols was allowing opposing defenses to inch closer to the line of scrimmage and shut down the running game? Remember that we've been told Tennessee's running backs are failing to find the hole or break big plays since Travis Stephens left in 2001? Do you recall that playmakers were the top priority on UT's recruiting wish list the last two years?
The quarterback is the centerpiece of most football recruiting classes, unless of course there's an outstanding QB already on campus and another in the waiting. The Vols haven't had the luxury since Martin left, just as Tennessee hasn't had a quarterback drafted by the NFL since Martin.
Not having a top signal caller has an impact in terms of attracting talent and signing skill players. However not having a top quarterback committed who can recruit other members from his class is a disadvantage the Vols have faced the last four seasons.
The key is getting a big name quarterback on board early and turning him into an ace recruiter. Even when UT committed Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer in 2004, neither pledged early and therefore weren't a factor in recruiting other prospects. And neither was a top five or even a top 10 quarterback.
In a realistic sense, there are plenty of QBs not ranked in the top 10 who become far more successful than their counterparts ever do. But when it comes to attracting skill players — perception is very important.
Beyond perception there's a more practical reason the quarterback is vital, particularly for Tennessee which uses an offensive system that puts a lot of responsibility on the signal caller. When hitting on all cylinders, UT's offense is a balanced attack that features the power run and the vertical passing game. It requires the quarterback to make a lot of pre-snap reads, change plays and follow progressions.
The cliché the quarterback gets too much credit when the team wins and too much blame when it loses doesn't apply to Tennessee like it does in general. UT's offense revolves around the quarterback and it has to be fully loaded before it's truly explosive.
With Crompton at the helm and a strong supporting cast at his back, Tennessee's offense will be armed and dangerous.